Past Or Present?

past-present.jpgHave you thought about what tense you will be writing your story in? To be honest, I never thought about tense from that perspective. I knew the tense in my sentences had to be in agreement, and I made sure I was producing grammatically correct prose, but I never thought about the entire novel being written in a specific tense.

While there are many different tenses in the English language. You will only find two being used consistently in novels. The story will either be written in the Past tense or the Present tense.

As in many other aspects of writing, there is no wrong choice with the tense you decide to use. It’s more of a preference. There are pros and cons to each, and the tense you use may even boil down to the genre of your work.

The present tense isn’t a fan favorite, because it’s not how we tell stories. Think about when you talk to friends and are sharing an experience. It’s in the past tense.

Present tense can sound contrived and unnatural, at least at first, but one thing present tense has going for it is it makes you feel like you are right there in the middle of the action. There’s uncertainty and suspense. Events are unfolding as you read, anything could happen.

My novel is written in past tense, as are most. When you read a book in past tense, you know the person is sitting in the library writing memories and there’s no stress. They didn’t die, or they wouldn’t be able to share their story.

Following is a great example of a passage written in the past and present tense. You decide which one you like better.

Past

Jessica counted silently to five then made her move. She opened the window slowly and slid into the room, her finger to her lips to keep the child quiet. “Sarah, it’s Jessica, remember me?” She whispered

The young girl shook her head.

“We have to get you out of here away from the bad man.” Jessica motioned her toward the window.

“But he said he would hurt me if I moved.”

“He will if we don’t get you out of here now.”

Present

Jessica counts slowly to five then makes her move. She slides the window open then enters the room holding her finger to her lips to keep the child quiet. “Sarah, it’s Jessica, remember me?

Sarah shakes her head, her pigtails bouncing.

“We have to get you out of here away from the bad man. You must be very quiet.”

“That bad man said he would hurt me if I moved,” Sarah whispered.

“He will if you don’t come now, quickly.

So what do you think? Take a section of your novel and write it in both tenses. Which one do you think works best?

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Past Or Present?

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